Yoga & the four trimesters

Hello dear readers!

I’m happy to be here, surrounded by silence and about to embark on the process of turning thoughts into sentences. My dear mother is out with the babies at the playground. I’ve just finished up a short practice and I’m seizing the moment to write about how the yoga practice went throughout my second pregnancy and into Motherhood 2.0.

First Trimester: I stopped with the Ashtanga sequence and practiced along with some prenatal sequences designed specifically for the first trimester. Mostly, I needed more time to rest as I found the symptoms this time around pretty heavy handed. My body and mind felt the stress of not having the asana and prananyama practice to support me through this early time,  I tried to keep myself breathing and making this a more introspective practice, asking myself how I could turn things around without these strong pillars of support.

Second Trimester: As soon as I entered my 13th week of pregnancy, I signed up for prenatal classes at Purna Yoga in downtown Helsinki, which I really enjoyed. Classes began with breathing and visualisation. We focused on our heart chakra and did some protective cocoon building, drawing the light and energy from our heart chakra up to our heads and then spreading our arms out and to the side and down to the earth, encasing ourselves in this golden ball of nurturing, protective energy. It was a wonderful way to connect with your body and the growing baby within.

We then began moving and did lots of work to find stability in the centre of the pelvis, rather than being tilted forward, as tends to happen with the changing structure of a pregnant body. We emphasised lengthening the spine and creating space in the side body, which felt wonderful. I’ve been feeling breathless lately (hence not so much feeling to do pranayama) and so opening up the upper back, chest and shoulders really felt beneficial to getting some more breath and oxygen flowing.

We used lots of props, like bolsters, chairs, the wall and straps hooked into it, so there is not much chance to generate an ongoing flow. This can feel a bit jolting for an Ashtangi, used to getting on the mat and moving oneself through a meditative state. This feels more like you build your poses and then hang out, dismantle the poses and then move onto the next thing. But once you are settled into the props and the pose, they feel wonderful and you can really hang out in a pose for a good while.

I felt at my pregnant best during my fifth and sixth months. We were in warm, sunny places and I felt full of energy, strength and flexibility. I didn’t dare practice more than some modified primary series during my first pregnancy; however, with this one, I was able to practice, with modifications of course, a good chunk into my intermediate series practice as well. We even managed to film some Ashtanga-based pregnancy sequences this year at Purple Valley.

Photos courtesy of Alex Hedges

Teaching wise, I worked throughout the Thailand and Goa retreats, and it was only during the last week and a half or so of the Goa retreat in February where I needed to be more judicious about what sort of adjustments I could manage. Luckily, we had a stellar team in Goa so I could sneak to the back for a bit of a sleep when it got too heavy.

Third Trimester: As I moved into the third trimester, I began to slow down a lot with the asana practice and begin to mentally prepare for labor. For one thing, we were back in Finland in March, so the body naturally stiffened up as a result of this change in environment. Physically, it became all about managing the discomfort of late-stage pregnancy. I went back to my weekly prenatal class and practiced ‘breathing the baby out.’ I had a great burst of energy for nesting, as I got all of Sesam’s baby clothes out from storage and ready for his brother. Mostly, I took walks with Sesam around our neighborhood, savoring the last moments with him as the only child. In the final month, I did a powerful new moon to new moon liturgy every evening in preparation for a safe home birth. Those were special moments, with Sesam hanging out with me, watching and waiting for me to finish chanting.

Fourth Trimester: Now that little baby Sumu has passed the third month, the fourth trimester is officially over. Much has changed since the first doddering days postnatal. I’ve been on the road to recovery, first by incorporating some gentle post labor exercises I learned in postnatal yoga. I began doing them days after the birth, as they are very gentle and can be done while lying in bed, to begin to close the body slowly, slowly. During Petri and Juha’s summer yoga retreat in Kustavi, I managed within the span of two and a half weeks to build my practice back up to Navasana, followed by a short back therapy sequence and a shorter finishing sequence. I haven’t managed to sustain this mind, but it felt nice to live and breath with the Ashtanga sequence during those weeks. Daily practice also helped alleviate some tough shoulder and lower back pain I was experiencing prior to the retreat. Stress, stress, stress. Exhaustion and lack of sleep…that does a number on your back.

Now that I’m back home, I’m managing to do some yogasana for about 15-30 mins on most days. I mix it up for the moment, incorporating back therapy and strengthening poses. A short daily meditation, first thing in the morning (oftentimes while lying in bed breastfeeding), is a must and I’ve started doing a short pranayama sequence as well since these are effective and efficient ways to calm my nervous system, setting my mind up well for the day ahead.

And of course, appreciation and gratitude.  Thank you, thank you, thank you ❤

 So much gratitude for my people.

 

 

 

 

 

What is unveiled when the mist lifts?

Yesterday was our naming ceremony – nimenanto- for our little raven-haired boy:

Sumu Ananda Kamau Räisänen

In a room slightly too small for the number of people overflowing out from it, quickly getting a touch too warm from the proximity of bodies gently squished next to each other, dear Vijayaji of the Yoga Gurukula of Pandeshwar, Karnataka, conducted a Vedic blessing ceremony for the beautiful and pure soul who’s arrived, not even three weeks ago.

That he may have his 100 years of life to eat his karma and navigate his destiny.

Incidentally, the day started out very badly for me. My first real taste of sleep-deprived burn out from trying to reshuffle family life and dynamics with a toddler and a newborn infant. The kind of burn-out where you are too tired and on edge to sleep, you know? To wit, I had written a short speech on the way to the ceremony and promptly lost it upon arrival. So, I had to scribble a nutshell version of what I could remember on a scrap of an old bill, explaining the significance of the names we chose…his first name, Sumu, in particular. It went something to this effect:

Sumu is a Finnish nature word for mist or fog. We had thought to give it to Sesam, but when he was born, he came out looking like such the little sesame seed that this nickname we had called him during my pregnancy, had asserted itself on his round little identity. Then when the second boy arrived and we tried Sumu on for size, out of all the other contending names, this one had nestled itself into our hearts and wouldn’t let up.

Now, I’m not sure about you, but when I think of fog or mist, it doesn’t exactly conjure up an atmosphere that is outwardly uplifting at first glance. However, we find that the mystery and existence of precious, hidden things which don’t easily and entirely reveal themselves to you at first to be a powerful metaphor for our yoga lives we are attempting to lead. We often encounter much fog and mist as we navigate along the spiritual path and from my experience, there is a great deal of clarity to be accessed within the cloak of haze, made that much more uplifting and rewarding, once the mist lifts.

We tend to valorize light and such beacons and symbols of optimism and positivity, as we should. And yet, I am drawn towards the spiritual gifts to be found when one has to work to gain the trust of the darker, more subtle, shape-shifting  and shadow side of Light.

And I’ve noticed that Finland and the country’s people often wait in misty reticence, only to slowly reveal an incredible amount of warmth and to establish true, deep and genuine bonds, for those willing to allow the Northern people some time to understand their mysterious ways.

To take a deeper look, indeed even to take a second look. To remain gently alert in the stillness…and to wait. Quietly. For through and within the mist, the treasure of a kind, generous and utterly loyal people are waiting to share themselves with you.

I’m so grateful to all our friends and family for coming together and creating this joyous occasion with us. Which certainly breathed new life into me and cleared the mist I had treacherously been stumbling through just hours before. Truly, I can say that I am richly blessed in the most valuable “currency” there is: all the people I’ve gotten to know and the relationships we’ve formed together. Here in this Suomen Maa.

family pic

P.S Ananda is the Sanskrit word for the joy, happiness, bliss that this little soul brings us and Kamau is a Kikuyu name. Kamau was my father’s brother and it follows to name new family members after other family members, living or deceased. In this way, the new addition to the group will have his or her place within the lineage and the long line of ancestral connections. The Kikuyu parampara.

Om ❤

Labor Land

Hello lovely readers!

I’m so inconsistent with writing this blog that every time I do make it here, I feel I have to address the issue. But whatever, you know, I mean, this is my hobby blog and writing is a hobby, an activity I enjoy doing, so at this point, it’s best to remove the pressure of this platform to be anything more than what it is. And anyway, I’m so grateful for all you 1,466 readers who are currently signed up here, yes I am, believe!

Now that I’ve worked that out for myself, I just want to say, “Hiiiiieeee!” I hope you are all well and enjoying yourselves. Spring time in Finland decided not to come this year, so I’ve been feeling a bit cheated, what to say of all those who soldiered through the full Finnish winter. Due to the timing of my pregnancy, we didn’t go to Mysore this past March since I would’ve been too far along in my final trimester for non-emergency air travel on the return flight. So, you know, one month less in Asia, yes, I guess on some level, the struggle has been real for me as well, lol…

Last fall I ambitiously set out to write a blog post a week and by October or so, that fell by the wayside, like a lone, abandoned mitten. At the start of the new year, I sat down with myself and did some serious reflection on what constitutes as a realistic amount of posts I can write for the upcoming year. I mulled over a monthly post and it pinched too tightly. I tried on once every three months for size and there was a bit more breathing room, but even then, the March month came and went and I was already behind on my lenient deadline. Still, I figure four blog posts in one calendar year, heck, even I can manage that.

But then…

I wondered if turning my blog into a vlog would mean a more consistent presence on my part? I’m not sure, but I’m willing to give it a try. And since I’ve been receiving some feedback and requests about yoga/pregnancy/motherhood from you good yoginis and yogis, well, mostly yoginis in this case, over the months, I figured I’d start by turning it over to you:

Comment below, send a message on my Ai Mami facebook page or email me with your questions/comments on what you’d like me to speak about when it comes to yoga, travelling as a yogi family, pregnancy, birth, motherhood, juicing, yoga pants, body image, self-care, mental well-being, entrepreneurship, life in Finland, race and identity, parenting, black women in comedy, food and diet, podcasts…you know all the subjects near and dear to my heart, with as much or as little levity and/or gravitas as the subject requires. The idea here is to have warm, supportive, real talk about life.

It might take some time to pull up a decent enough video, but it’ll be more motivating to have a specific task to work towards, especially when the social pressure is on a bit.

So lovelies, in case you didn’t know, I’m due to give birth in about ten days. Thank you to everyone who has been reaching out and sending messages of love and care. I haven’t had a chance to respond to all of them yet, as my mind, body and soul have already set sail to Labor Land, or the place where women go to retrieve the souls of their babies and bring them down to earth, but I just want you to know that I appreciate each and every one of you.

I can’t wait to here from you with your questions, comments and requests.

Om and so much ❤

 

Suomesta Rakkaudella…From Finland, With Love

Hello hello,

I’m excited to start a series on the blog that has been bubbling around my head for awhile: a look at women entrepreneurs, or femmepreneurs as I like to call ’em, who are working in some creative field or capacity. The purpose of the series is to interview several women of color here in Helsinki (and beyond) who run their own small businesses. It’s to feature women who are working for themselves and/or are leading a group of employees. The main themes I’m looking to highlight are to inspire women of minority identity to take risks, believing in themselves as business owners and to make choices which come from a place of purpose, passion and creativity.

I start the series with Bianca, an African-American by way of the West Indies who’s lived in Helsinki since 2008. Her father was a military man and the family moved around when the children were young, eventually settling in Texas. She went to a predominantly Mexican high school in El Paso and was one of four Black students there. Bianca was Texas state champ in high jumping, won a track scholarship and attended Southern Methodist University.  In terms of study interests, she found out she was more creative rather than technical and had a desire to study Ceramics. She earned a degree in English and Journalism in 2000 and after graduation, decided not to continue with her athletic pursuits by going to Olympic training camp. She felt it was something she’d been doing for so long that it had begun to feel a bit empty and she wished to see more of the world. She felt she’d done what was expected of her by graduating and that now it was time to strike out on her own.

She worked as an editor in Dallas for a bit but felt ready to leave Texas so she went out to New York City to stay with a friend, Sharon (you’ll hear more about her in another post) from university. Funnily enough, the day before 9/11, she’d taken the red-eye back to Dallas and about a month later she packed up her things and, with the help of a friend, drove a U Haul out to the city. Once there, she began the transformation of reinventing herself in the city, working as a bartender and a model; gathering education and skills along the way by studying acting and the culinary arts. She did this for about nine years and felt it was a great period of growth. She’d felt that as far as high-school and college athletes go, they led quite sheltered lives, where everything is taken care of for you. In NYC, which she considers to be home, she felt she truly came into her own, on her own terms. However, after close to a decade in New York, she started feeling that wanderlust itch again and began to think about possible moving out to LA to pursue acting, when fate stepped in and determined that she would actually continue her story in Finland. She met a Finn and after two years of doing the long-distance thing, when she was invited to move to Finland, she accepted and arrived to Helsinki in the summer of 2008.

And thus begins the Helsinki chapter of the tale…

So why don’t we start with your business and the story of how it came to be?

I run a tourist and souvenir T-shirt retail company called Suomesta Rakkaudella*. It’s based at Kauppatori by the harbor and I do the design, printing and embroidering for the shirts. When I first moved to Finland, I was working my boyfriend at the time with his Kauppatori stall. After the relationship ended, I was sort of forced to work for myself and the reason I stayed at Kauppatori was because I felt limited with what I could do career wise due to language limitations. In 2010-2011 I started my own stand with one of those low-key, informal umbrella stalls, four designs and two colors of shirts. Now I have 16 different designs and several colors to choose from. I’m proud of it because I love the design aspect and while there are more glamorous things to design than souvenir T shirts, at least it’s a built-in focus with a market. I’m currently learning to delegate better so that the business can grow.

*From Finland, With Love (which also happens to be the title of Roman Schultz’s tongue-in-cheek book on life in Finland)

The nature of business at Kauppatori is seasonal and tourist dependent. Can you describe how you structure your on and off-season schedules? 

Basically, during the summer, I wake up 6am so that I can get to the market by 7am. This past season I didn’t take on an employee, so I sold alone at the stall. I’d only stop for a quick food and bathroom break and it was back to the stall. I’d finish at around 6:30 or 7pm, take a look at the inventory and go straight to print whatever’s out of stock usually until midnight. I work crazy hard in the summer, 20 hours a day, seven days a week. Not much sleep, not much eating, just work. Winter is the quiet time and now the question has become, “What do I do in the winter?” The first winter or two, I enjoyed the time off but after a while, you need to do something to feel worthwhile.

Are you involved in other projects?

I’ve done some TV work. I recently wrapped up filming as an extra on a TV series and when I first came to Finland, I was on Top Chef. Last year, my brother and I made Trinidadian food for Ravintola Päivä. I made roti, chicken curry and several sauces. I’ve also done a bit of modelling but the market is different here. It’s not my market but it’s a nice supplement. Right now, food trucks and the whole concept of street food is booming in Helsinki. And you know, coming from Trinidad, it’s all street food so I’ve had a small thought to have a Trini food truck. It’s hard to make a profit with food though so you need to really love it.

What are some of the advantages and disadvantages to setting up your own business here?

As an entrepreneur the scariest thing is thinking that I don’t have a retirement plan. You’re living by the seat of your pants. When you’re doing it by yourself, it’s a lot harder. With a career and a job, all that comes with the package. I think about retirement everyday. In the initial and middle stages, you need to live with the fact that you and only you are providing for your future. There’s no 401K or retirement plan and you need to make enough so that you can retire in the future. There’s more responsibility in your own life which is great but it’s also harder than leaving it up to the government or your job to take care of you. Here in Finland I’d say it’s a bit easier, especially for women. I personally had enough savings so I didn’t need to use a start-up grant, but it’s not like in the States. Finnish offices are supportive and helpful and they want to help you and work with you, as a small business owner.

That first season in Kauppatori, it was make or break. I said a Hail Mary and threw in the rest of my savings. That first year I was thinking to make enough money just to go back home. It’s pretty isolating within Kauppatori as well and you do need some working knowledge of Finnish with them (Kauppatori), to get through the bureaucracy. You need to work very hard yourself because employees are so costly here. Opening anything, you have to love it. You don’t have to know you love it, not in the beginning, but once you’re in it, if you don’t love it, get out, it’s going to suck you dry.

Where do you see yourself (and your business) in the next five years?

I am happy in Finland and Helsinki and so I plan to stay here for the foreseeable future. When people ask me where I’m from I say New York but currently I consider Finland to be my home. Over the next three-five years, I’d really like to have a yoga wear line and move more into the cut and design of fabric. I love the quality of materials coming out of Bangladesh but there’s a lot of stigma attached to it as a result of the unethical and exploitative treatment of textile and garment workers. It’s tricky because when I look at the quality of the products, it really is Bangladesh that’s making the best stuff and, in the end, I want to give the consumer a good, durable product. Another place in consideration is Portugal where there’re some factories within the garment industry which use organic materials and provide fare wages for the workers.

This leads nicely into my next question: As a yoga practitioner, do you feel you make business choices which reflect some of the values and ethics written and discussed about in yogic teachings and philosophy? 

The idea of fair pricing. I don’t buy the cheapest or most expensive shirts on the market. I find the best product for my needs and deliver it in the best possible way. I try to keep prices within an accessible range. Honesty, honor, truthfulness, many of the yamas and niyamas are in there. It also comes from a moral core that my mother enforced and just by trying to be a decent person.

Tell is a little bit about how you got into yoga…

I’ve practiced yoga for ten years. I’ve only had a dedicated practice for four years. I started in New York at gym classes, etc. I didn’t become really interested until I went to Jivamukti Yoga there. They introduced me to proper alignment, counterbalancing forces, chanting and meditation. I had only experienced the asanas before and they gave me my first glimpse into what yoga really is, and I was hooked. Then I moved to Finland shortly after. Here I haven’t really found a home studio. I did Bikram for a while at Yoganordic. While they were lovely, it was back to just asanas and I was really missing what I’d met at Jivamukti. So once the breakup happened, I decided to take my “Eat, Pray, Love” journey, went to Bali and got my 200hr teaching certificate. I really never intended to teach, I just wanted to immerse myself and learn and heal. That totally worked, but it also developed a desire in me to teach. Since I’ve been back I’ve been “home schooling” myself by following Meghan Currie’s classes on Cody App. I consider her my guru. I’ve taken on some other teachers whom I respect as well, including Dylan Werner, Ashley Galvin and Talia Sutra. I’ve taught a few private classes, but the market keeps me too busy to really focus there. I also feel that in order to teach, I need to gain more knowledge. I’ll most likely take my 300hr training at some point and I’m continually reading and expanding my own practice. I do a mix of yin and vinyasa. It’s not rooted in any particular style. I couldn’t call it Ashtanga, as I don’t follow the traditional sequences. I like to move but I also like to find stability and ease in static holds. I like powerful flows that are challenging, but I’m hyper focused on alignment and gentle progress. I think your yoga should always help you, not hurt you. Everything comes in its own time.

What advice would you give women, particularly women of color, who may not have much Finnish under their belts, about starting a venture of their own?

When you think of savings, you don’t need to necessarily think you need to make such a large contribution to get started. I started with four designs and put 5K. The important thing is to just start. Really be willing to work for it. I didn’t know I liked tshirts. I’m just lucky that I did. Give it up right away if you don’t love it. You don’t need to know that you love it before you start but when you are in it, you gotta love it. If you find yourself lacking in love, give it up, let it go and start something else!

To end the conversation on a lighter note, what’s your I’m a Dope Ass Queen anthem that you listen to when you need a boost of energy? What are your hobbies?

If I want to get pumped up, I listen to Robyn or Sia but honestly yoga and meditation keep me sane. I’m planning to do a Vipassana meditation course early next year. I also love to play golf. I’m artistic so I like to draw and paint and plan to get back into ceramics at some point.

Alright dear ones, that wraps it up for me. I’ll be keeping you posted on developments on the yoga wear line. The next thing to do is book your flight to Helsinki and visit Bianca at Kauppatori. Tell her I said, “Hiiii!”

xoxo

One bad-ass mami

Hi friends,

Another late and short post on this Monday evening. Lots of workshop wrap-up yesterday and travel back to the base today, but I’m still determined to get this one out as a response to last week’s post.

Thank you so much for everyone who posted comments on the blog and on Facebook in response to my mother’s post. It seems like it resonated with a lot of people, which is way cool.

My mother is one bad-ass woman. Seriously, she’s such an inspiration, the way she’s delved into this yogic lifestyle, started not in the first flush of youth. And yet, she approaches her asana practice with such consistency and diligence, not for the glory of advancing into more glamorous, eye-catching postures, but for the value of keeping the body healthy and in well-functioning order. I think her mental drive is one her main strengths. She doesn’t make excuses for herself, she never has and most likely won’t start now. She doesn’t use her age against herself as a reason not to give things a go. I mean, she’s not taking mad crazy risks either and injuring herself, but that spark of curiosity that has been blazing throughout her life is very much present.

I think that’s what it is. That spark.

Makes you want to be around her.

May we all practice with enthusiasm and sparkle, no matter the series or posture (or age!).

images om    and  2000px-Heart_corazón

Reflections of an ageing Ashtangi

The following post was written by my mother, Celia Nyamweru. Enjoy!

Ashtanga yoga is a family affair for me – I started practicing after my daughter, Wambui, began to share her life with the highly respected Ashtanga yoga teacher Petri Räisänen. In January 2011 they invited my husband and me to join them at Petri’s retreat on Koh Mak island in southern Thailand. I celebrated my sixty-ninth birthday the following July, when I was at my second retreat, the one run by Petri and his long-time friend and business partner, Juha Javanainen, in Houtskar, south-west Finland. Since then I have attended these retreats every year, usually for two or three weeks.  2016 was the seventh year of my retreats – and incidentally of my seventy-fourth birthday. As I’ve got older and stiffer, I have seen Wambui gain in skill and confidence, both as a practitioner of yoga and as a teacher. She and Petri are now the parents of a 2.5 year old son, Sesam – but I will come back to that later!

The way I have come to understand Ashtanga yoga, your chosen teacher is a very important person in one’s practice, the person to whom one turns for advice and by whom one is given permission to attempt new asanas. I consider Petri to be my instructor, but I only actually practice with him twice a year, during the Koh Mak and Houtskar retreats. During these retreats he makes time available for personal consultations, as well as running group sessions where he addresses people’s questions and demonstrates particular asanas. As his mother-in-law, I feel that I should keep a low profile in these sessions. I try to be very scrupulous about not bothering him with yoga-related questions when we are together at meal times or sharing family time during the retreats. I am a retired university professor and I know how exhausting it can be to run workshops and field trips when one is constantly bombarded with student questions! I am lucky to be able to turn to Wambui for questions about my practice as well – including reminding me of the Sanskrit names of some of the asanas!

During the months between the retreats, I practice at home. I try to practice five or even six times a week, most weeks, and I think this frequent practice is essential as one ages. We are all of us getting older – but obviously there is a difference between ageing from twenty-nine to thirty-four, and ageing from sixty-nine to seventy-four! As I practice, I am constantly aware of my body and how it is changing. I think I have a naturally flexible body, but my upper body strength leaves a lot to be desired. It took me about three to four years to get my legs into full lotus, and I am still working on it! But I find that much easier than Bhujapidasana and Kukkutasana, which remain distant goals.

celia_padmasana1-copy

Balance is said to be a challenge as one gets older, and I look with envy at other people’s perfect Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, though in fact it is the transitions within this asana that I find most difficult; once my leg is out in front or to the side, I can usually remain fairly steady. And in Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana, I find I can usually bind if I do so once my head is down, though I cannot bend forward with my hand already binding! In the transition from Kurmasana to Suptakurmasana, I find it almost impossible to bring my feet together, however hard I wriggle them. It is much easier for me to get out of Kurmasana and then go into Suptakurmasana as a new asana. I mention these details to show how I am constantly making concessions and taking small short cuts, which I assume will increase as the years pass. Petri and Wambui are very tolerant and understanding about this!

At the same time there has been progress; there are some asanas that I consider as the benchmarks or hurdles that I use to monitor my efforts. Marichyasana D is one of them (I’m sure I am not the only person who feels this!) I cheat a bit with this one, since I am much stiffer on the first side when one is twisting to the right. My first right hand twist I do with my left foot on the floor; twisting left I can put my right foot on my thigh, first time round. Then I turn back to the right hand twist again and this time put my left foot on my thigh – and I can usually bind, however inelegantly! Another benchmark is Sirsana, which I have been working on very incrementally for the whole seven years. I still need the reassurance of the wall in front of me as I go into the pose, and I still need to go up with bent legs rather than straight legs. But most of the time I do not need to actually feel my feet on the wall before I straighten my legs fully, and I am slowly trying to bring my straight legs slowly down to the floor as I come out of the pose.

Last July Petri suddenly gave me a few second series asanas, which came as a surprise and an added challenge. I had no time to read up on them or to watch anyone else doing them – I was on the mat and following his directions before I realized what was happening! Luckily I was able to consult with Wambui later and also refer to his Nadi Sodhana book for a sense of what I should be aiming at. I don’t think my Achilles tendons will ever allow me to proceed very far with Pasasana, but I am excited to be making tiny improvements in my balance in Bakasana. I take the precaution to put two cushions in front of me in case I plop forward onto my nose, as has happened several times.

Being retired means that I don’t have to rush anywhere after my practice – but during the retreats I find that family life makes some demands on my practice, especially in Houtskar. Juggling a busy professional schedule with care for their son Sesam is a huge challenge for Petri and Wambui, and over the last three years I have been able to make a modest contribution to this. At Houtskar Petri usually goes for his own practice soon after 4 a.m., and I would start my practice as early as possible (before the first group session that begins at 5 a.m.) so that I can be finished before 7 a.m. This allows me time for a quick shower before I take over watching Sesam from Wambui so that she can teach her class; we still have to make sure that each of us has time for breakfast! Later in the day things are slightly less hectic, but I have spent many hours walking with Sesam; first with him in a baby carrier, later in a stroller and most recently keeping him company while he plays in a sand pit.

As I get older, I worry more about injury. So far I have avoided serious injuries, though at times I notice bruises on my upper thighs, probably due to the pressure from Marichyasana B and D! I am extremely cautious with my legs, in particular my knees, moving very slowly in and out of the standing asanas. And when doing some of the seated asanas like Janu Sirsana, I give my knees a kiss now and then to thank them for being there for me! Yoga has made me extremely aware of my body and how it continues to change. I think that the main challenge over the last seven years is that I now find it harder to practice in the early morning as I wake up stiff and sore after the night’s sleep. I broke my left arm in 1999 and my right pelvis in 2009, and the residual stiffness from those injuries is increasingly making itself felt. By mid-afternoon I am warmer and more flexible, though I still find I practice extremely slowly. One of the challenges of doing Mysore practice in a group is the sight of younger people going through their practice so fast – I know one is supposed to keep one’s dhristi in all the appropriate points, but one can’t help noticing some things!

Being part of a group during the twice-yearly retreats means that other people also notice me! Over the years I have built up a group of ‘yoga friends’ from several European countries whom I meet at retreats, and many of them have given me tremendous encouragement about how my practice has developed. They notice improvements that I may not be aware of, since I feel I am always practicing at the limit of my ability. And last summer I also learned something unexpected from one of them; it seems that Petri has been using me as a source of inspiration for older people with remarks like this: “Celia started doing yoga aged 68 and look where she is now; no reason why you can’t do this at the age of 55.” I was a little surprised to find myself used as a role model in this way, but I have to think of it as a compliment! I am sure yoga will continue to be an important part of my own life, of my family life, and a help to me as I negotiate the challenges of living in an ageing body.

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Ashtangi Mami Wata

Ok, let’s jump right into it, shall we friends? I promised to talk this week about how I turned melancholy into something more uplifting right? I like to think that melancholy is my expression of creativity in its potential seed form and in order to transform it into something good and satisfying, I owe it to my inherent creative self to manifest it be doing something creative.

Brene Brown said it so well on Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast, Big Magic, “Creativity is the way I share my soul with the world and without it, I am not okay…and without having access to everyone else’s, we are not okay. There is no such thing as non-creative people, there are just people who use their creativity and people who don’t and unused creativity is not benign…it metastasises into resentment, grief, heartbreak. People sit on that creativity, or they deny it, and it festers. ” 

We’re all creative beings but somehow along the way, we’ve been taught to ignore and forget this in the work of surviving this serious life and tattered world. I’m encouraging that you, for the sake of us all, tap into your creativity, be it in cooking a nice meal or writing, singing, dancing, painting, making music…whatever your creative spirit finds expression and realisation in. It doesn’t have to become your full-time paying work. You don’t even have to show it to anyone for curation and display and posterity. You can keep it fully private and personal and do it for nothing but the reward of having made or done something. One sculptor makes these sculptures only to throw them into a river. Think of the Tibetan Buddhist process of sand painting these beautiful and intricate mandalas. Tibetan monks spend hours upon days upon weeks to create, and then dismantle these mandalas upon completion, as a symbol  of the transitory nature of material life.

It doesn’t even matter if you don’t feel you are particularly ‘good’ or ‘skilled’ at what you like to do. Most of us I would say carry wounds of shame from childhood surrounding our creative attempts, when you were told by someone, for example, not to quit your day job because your voice sucks. Especially for us African children growing up in the 80s and 90s, where creativity was routinely dismissed and mocked, which is like, so crazy to me as we have creativity through from our veins; where creative work was not considered to be work at all; where nonlinear thinking was not considered to be thinking at all. We have a lot of work to do to unlearn these false beliefs. That’s why I’m so happy to have someone like Lupita Nyong’o’s success story as it helps shift the narrative into more inclusive, tolerant, open-minded territory.

However, I’ll go far and wager that we can all unearth a painful memory, from childhood especially, when our creativity was shut down in harsh judgment. And this moment was so strong in its shame that the impression basically changed the way we thought about ourselves forever more. Think of a man who loved drawing more than anything else in a his life, how he found safety in it in what was essentially a traumatic upbringing. One day, as his mother was putting up one of his drawings on the fridge, his father said, “Look, we don’t want him to be a faggot artist.”* Now think how that was the last picture he ever drew until at 50, about 40 years later, he started drawing again. “Like in Big Magic, when you’re taking on creativity, you are taking on soul work. This is not about what we do, it’s about who we are”**

*Brene Brown; Big Magic Podcast; Season 1, Episode 12 ; **Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert

So please, for the sake of us all, don’t just watch and consume from the sidelines. Release the shackles of what you’ve (mis)understood and internalised yourself to be at an early age. Explore, enjoy and satiate your creative instincts either for yourself alone or to be shared and displayed, as I truly believe that much of life’s maladies can be solved or at least understood and come to terms with by using up our inherent creative energies.

Anyway, as I was marinating on the type of way feelings I wrote about last week,  I turned on the radio (Basso) and went to church for a moment. The djs on the show Radio Ouagodougou were killing it and that music felt like the sweetest balm for my parched spirit. Here’s the link to the song which spoke to the marrow of my soul at that moment. You can listen to it while you scroll through the photo shoot which has literally been an idea aching to become a reality for a good long while.

It seems like autumn is my ode to Mami Wata, the water spirit venerated in West, Central and Southern Africa and in the African diaspora in the Americas. This year, I managed to get the spectacular Bianca to join me for some nature deity celebration and black girl yoga consciousness raising (the quasi-Nordic edition). It is an offering, my narrative to show that there we are everywhere, spinning straw into gold. Black women, lift each other up and rejoice in the truth that when one black woman wins we all win. Black girl, lose yourself and find yourself again and create yourself and love yourself. Love her tenderly and fiercely, without shame and miserliness. Love her without permission. Love her without restriction. Love her completely and fully and whole-heartedly.

black-onyx-mala

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Earth mala: Black onyx: a powerful protection stone; absorbs and transforms negative energy, and helps to prevent the drain of personal energy; aids the development of emotional and physical strength and stamina, especially when support is needed during times of stress, confusion or grief; fosters wise decision-making. Use Black Onyx to encourage happiness and good fortune; useful in healing old wounds or past life issues; wonderful for meditation and dreaming, recommended to use a secondary grounding stone in combination with the Onyx.

Earth mala: Labradorite: enhances the mental and intuitive abilities of clairvoyance, telepathy, prophecy; assists in communication with higher guides and spirits; provides an ease in moving between the worlds, and permits a safe and grounded return to the present; brings out the best in people, making work life more congenial; courtesy and full attention to the customer; tempers the negative side of our personality, the traits and actions that rob our energy and may produce depression or shame; helps develop the hands’ sensitivity, making it useful for physiotherapists and all who use the power of touch to heal.

fire-mala

fire-mala

Fire mala: Agate: promotes inner stability, composure, and maturity. Its warm, protective properties encourage security and self-confidence; great crystal to use during pregnancy; also helps new mothers avoid the “baby blues”; Coral: calming; alleviates depression; changes adverse mental and emotional situations, such as nightmares, anger and fear, into more beneficial conditions, including intelligence and bravery; Garnet: energising and regenerative; boosts the energy of an entire system; stabilising; brings order to chaos whether internal or external; root chakra stone, excellent for manifestation; used to ground one’s dreams in reality, bringing abundance, prosperity, and realization of those dreams

water-mala

Water mala and bracelets: Aventurite: stone of luck and chance; said to increase perception and creative insight; creates good opportunities; has a stabilizing effect on the emotions and is excellent for teenagers; used to aid near-sightedness; enhances the immune system. Amazonite (markers and on one bracelet): mint green to aqua green stone said to be of truth, honor, communication, integrity, hope, and trust; said to enhance intuition, psychic powers, creativity, intellect, and psychic ability; often associated with the throat chakra, and as such, said to be beneficial to communication.

air-mala

vashistasana-variation

Air mala: Rose Quartz with Snow Quartz marker: Rose Quartz is a rose pink variety of Quartz; stone of universal love; restores trust and harmony in relationships, encouraging unconditional love; purifies and opens the heart at all levels to promote love, self-love, friendship, deep inner healing and feelings of peace. Snow Quartz: stone that brings good fortune; calming and soothing; helpful for meditation; has all the properties of clear quartz to a gentler degree; can be considered a very yin, feminine type of quartz.

Alright lovies, this was my tale of transformation. Join me on instagram @ashtangimami as I’ll soon be starting my version of #blackgirlyogamagic. I’ll be featuring a song a day by a black songstress linked with bits of yoga in the hopes that it inspires more of my brothers and sisters to take up the practice of yoga; which, and this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the science and art of this spiritual knowledge, is the most radical and truest form of self-love and self-care I’ve ever known. Stay safe, stay hungry, stay woke.

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images om and 2000px-Heart_corazón

Bianca, sublime model and t-shirt designer at Kauppatori: @biancatmm

Eva, the perennial talent behind Heart of Joy mala beads: @eevaruotsalainen

Lars, photographer extraordinaire: @larskastilan and larskastilan.com